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by Tyler McCommas

From the outside, it might be hard to see a whole lot of optimism for the Norman Tigers following another 1-9 season. However, even after a tough 2017 campaign, you won’t find any long faces within the NHS football program.

In fact, head coach Rocky Martin and his staff are working toward better days that might be just around the corner, and there’s a lot to be excited about.

For starters, quarterback Cade Horton (6’1, 175) has a season under his belt after being thrown in the fire his sophomore season. The two-sport athlete has already committed to play baseball at Ole Miss, however, his arm gives the Tigers options in the passing game they haven’t had in several years. Even though last season was a roller coaster ride for Horton, there’s a general belief that he’s on the verge of a breakout season. The talent is certainly there but limiting turnovers will be key for the junior quarterback as he looks to this season.

“He’s really taken control of the team,” said offensive coordinator Michael Collins. “When you’re the starting quarterback you always have to be the leader, but he was surrounded last year by a bunch of vocal seniors. For him, part of it was being respectful to the upperclassman, but he hasn’t handled it that way this year. He knows it’s his show.”

An abundance of talented ball carriers seems to follow Norman High into every season. This year is no different. Exavier Smith (5’11, 188) looks to play a big role in the running game after seeing an extended amount of carries last season. He is in line to be the next highly productive running back for the Tigers and his combination of speed and power will help take pressure off Horton, giving NHS the dual threat that it needs on offense.

“Exavier will get the first crack at being the feature guy,” said Collins. “He looks great. He’s at 190 pounds and his attitude is excellent. Joe Willie and Trey Hecimovich will also get their shots. All three have different strengths.”

The Tigers have a lot of depth at wide receiver. Andrew Young (6’1, 180) is coming off a spectacular sophomore season, showcasing his skills in several one-on-one opportunities. Young’s presence on the field will be vital to Norman High’s passing attack.

“Andrew Young is solid,” said Collins. “He’s gotten bigger, stronger, faster and catches everything. He’s also a great route runner.”

Harvey Cooper (5’10, 150) and Tyler Crump (5’8, 165) will also be important playmakers, as both have proven reliable and productive. With progressing skill players all around him, Horton has more than enough playmakers to help out in the passing game.

With the offensive philosophy change last season from a power run to more of a traditional spread, the Tigers had to go through a change of mentality on the offensive line. By the end of the season, the unit gelled and came away playing its best football.

The coach hopes that experience will help pave the way for successful returners such as Robert Kowaleski (6’2, 245), Olawayemisi Oyesanya (6’, 230) and Ben Sparks (6’3, 275). NHS has the luxury of featuring several linemen that have played a quality number of snaps. If the offensive line comes together, the sky is truly the limit for the Tiger offense.

Defensively, Norman High was hit hard by graduation at all three levels. However, the Tigers still feel like this could be one of the best defenses they’ve fielded in recent memory. The backbone of the defense will be found in a core group of linebackers, possibly one of the most formidable in 6A-1. Cole Thompson (6’1, 195) and Tyren Robb (5’10, 200) will serve as a fierce duo at inside linebacker, while Sam Wishon (6’, 180) and Cedric Seals(5’7, 175) will man the outside of the four-linebacker set.

Up front, Tevin Randle (5’9, 145) and Charles Prince (6’, 190) will be key players on the defensive line, to round out a talented front seven.

In the secondary, the conversation starts with Gunnar Luna (5’10, 150), who’s arguably the most talented player on the entire defense. The summer has been good for Luna, as he’s transformed with an extra 20 pounds of muscle. His speed and athleticism will be a difference maker for the Tigers. Look for Luna to be mentioned with various post season awards.– BSM

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